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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1644

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(6.18) —I propose to move a couple of amendments to the motion which has been moved by the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Gareth Evans), although I think that is an expression that we should cease to use; it seems particularly inappropriate. However, the position is that the Opposition finds the appeal to common sense of the Manager of Government Business rather extraordinary. We have had for the whole of this week an elaborate amount of messing about by the Government as part of its possible early election strategy. It has faced up to reality now and the bad odour in which it is held in the electorate and it has indicated that it will not have an early election. That, in principle, is right, although from an electoral point of view from our side I think it is a pity.

Government senators-Ha, ha!

Senator CHANEY —I am glad honourable senators opposite came in on that. I wonder why it was that the State Secretary of the Australian Labor Party in Western Australia, Mr Behan, was pleading so piteously against having an election. It is obviously that none of the caterwauling senators opposite have been in Western Australia recently, because if they had they would know that they were about to roll out a whole lot of their colleagues in the House of Representatives, which would have been a very considerable contribution to good government in this country. The fact of the matter is that the whole of the program of the Senate has been messed about because the Government has been manoeuvring trying to keep its election options open.

It is proposed that the Senate will sit in place of the Estimates committees and will sit if necessary, we are told, on Saturday. And why? To pass a Bill which will not come into effect for several years. We had the usual absurdities from Senator Richardson when he spoke in the debate on the Australia Card Bill just before Senator Gareth Evans intervened. Senator Richardson was talking in threatening terms about losing tax cuts. I ask Senator Richardson to go away and talk to somebody like Mr Ron Castan, QC, who I suppose he would accuse of being some sort of biased observer, and ask him when it is that the tax savings that the Government claims will start accruing will actually occur. He will be told that they are over two financial years away.

The nonsense that has been trumpeted out in this debate has been part of an elaborate electoral charade. All senators are being severely inconvenienced to deal with a Bill which has no urgency, which will not come into operation for a considerable time, and which could be dealt with when we returned in the normal course. The program of Estimates committee hearings laid down for the Senate could have been dealt with in the normal course. But the Government, having locked itself into this situation of having the Bill dealt with this week, has now moved a motion which, in a number of respects, is objectionable. I would like to make those objections quite clear.

For a start, the Opposition has always been prepared to sit on days on which the Government has sought to sit. We have found it unfortunate that the Government is so erratic in its programming-it has already added one complete week of sittings in May-but we accept that, if the Government finds that it needs additional periods of sittings to meet its program, of course we must sit. Indeed, we are prepared to sit on any working day during the year that meets the Government's legislative needs, but we are not prepared to enter into weekend sittings when they are not necessary, when the Bill is not urgent and when there is nothing hanging on the final passage or resolution of legislation. One of the amendments that I propose to move is that the Senate should adjourn on Friday at 3.45 p.m. in the normal course. At what stage we will be with respect to the legislation at that point, I do not know. We may well have completed it at that point although, if Senator Evans continues to bluster, I suppose the chances of our doing that are limited.

That is one of the amendments which I will move. I suggest to honourable senators that no more should be required of senators than that they sit on five days a week, if that is the Government's requirement, but to suggest that they should sit on weekends as well is obviously absurd.

Senator Gareth Evans —It is in your hands.

Senator CHANEY —The attempted bullying by the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, who says that it is in our hands, is quite pathetic. We are not interested in going down to this threat. In any event, the fact is that we will deal with this legislation in an orderly way. We will make our speeches, and when the debate is concluded the legislation will be dealt with and will be thrown out. That is its fate, and the Government knows that that is its fate. That is the farce of this insistance on a weekend sitting; that is the farce of a sitting on Friday; that is the farce of upsetting all the Estimates committee hearings. It is an absolute farce.

Government senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections. I also suggest that Senator Chaney address the Chair.

Senator CHANEY —Certainly, Mr President. The absolute farce of the procedure that is being followed is that we are dealing with a Bill which the Government knows will be defeated. It will make no difference to the Government whether the Bill is defeated today, tomorrow, Friday, or, indeed, in three weeks time. The first amendment, therefore, that I will move is in regard to that point.

The second point is that the Government, in its eagerness to deal with this matter, has set down an order of business which deprives the Opposition of many of its normal entitlements on a business day. We find that, for example, on Thursday the order of business is for petitions, notices of motion, formal motions, presentation of papers and questions. There is no provision for matters to be brought forward by the Opposition under standing order 64. In the same way, on Friday, 3 April--

Senator Gareth Evans —When was the last time you used that effectively?

Senator CHANEY —The fact is that the Government has not even been prepared to call for a division on the matters which we have brought forward under standing order 64. The motions which have been brought forward by the Opposition have related to the scandalous problems in the housing industry, the oppression of families by this Government, and all the rest of it. Those opposite have not been prepared to call for a division. They have sat there in their limp and wimpish way and simply allowed the motions to be passed. All I can say is that there are a whole lot of caterwauling senators over there who are not even prepared to vote against the proposition that their Government has betrayed Australian families. They are not prepared to cast their vote against the proposition that the Government has destroyed the ambitions of many home owners. It is an absolutely pathetic show, and they know it. I propose to move amendments which will include within the motion the normal entitlements of the Opposition to bring forward matters of public importance.

I believe that, as far as the Australian people are concerned, there are many more important things than the identity card. The identity card, which has been recommended against by a committee of this Parliament and which many distinguished Australians have opposed, stands as nothing compared with the problems of high interest rates and the many other problems which are afflicting the Australian community. This Government is to be condemned for the way in which it is conducting the business of the Senate. So my second amendment relates to the addition to paragraph (3) (f) (1) of the words `Any matter pursuant to standing order 64', and, in paragraph (5) (f) (1), of the words `Any matter brought forward pursuant to standing order 64'. I will also move for the deletion of paragraph (6) as part of that same amendment, because that relates to the suspension of sittings from 10.30 p.m. on Friday, 3 April. I will move an amendment to paragraph (4) to the effect that the adjournment should take place at 3.45 p.m. I seek leave to move my amendments together.

Leave granted.

Senator CHANEY —I move:

(1) Paragraph (3), after subparagraph (f), add:

`(fa) any proposal pursuant to Standing Order 64

(fb) consideration of Government Papers pursuant to Sessional Order

(fc) General Business'.

(2) Paragraph (4), leave out the time specified, insert:

`9 a.m. to 12.45 p.m., 2 p.m. to 3.45 p.m.'

(3) Paragraph (5), after paragraph (f), add:

(fa) any proposal pursuant to Standing Order 64

(fb) consideration of Government Papers pursuant to Sessional Order'.

(4) Leave out paragraph (6).